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Tips for Working with Students with Complex Communication Needs




Most of my caseload this year is made up of students with complex communication needs. Some students have multiple-disabilities that can make treatment planning and implementation difficult – but not impossible. I want to share some tips that I’ve found to be helpful when working with this population.

1) My first tip is probably the most important. A professor of mine from graduate school always stressed that we need to give these students POWER. Power with their communication devices as it is the only way for them to access the world.

2) In order to give them the most power, we must give them the tools to be an ACTIVE participant in the classroom. It makes me so sad to walk into a classroom and the student’s device is in his/her binder or desk. How are they expected to participate without a voice?

3) Adapt materials to best meet their needs. Do they need large visuals? Do they need an eye gaze system so they can make their own choices? Maybe they are at the object level or need textures to identify with familiar items?

4) Implement functional communication in the classroom. Place a single message device next to the door and prompt them to hit it if they need to leave to go the restroom or if they want to take a walk.

5) Use what you have. In this product you can see that I’ve use common battery operated toys, low tech, and high tech devices to meet each individuals needs.

6) Have fun with these students! The students that seem to present the biggest challenges always reveal the biggest rewards in therapy.

Check out this resource if you need specific lesson plans for students with multiple disabilities.


-Stay amazing!
Lacee Johnson
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